We had an off-beat morning today. We missed the morning service at church, so I planned to take the girls to the evening service. I had to pick something up on the way, and the errand took longer than expected. And of course, the girls were hungry. Realizing that it would practically be bedtime by the time we made it back home, I stopped for a few dollar burgers, hoping they’d be satiated before arriving at church.
By the time we were back on the road, service had already started, and we weren’t even close to arriving on time, but I was hoping we’d at least catch the second half of the sermon. As we headed down the highway, E started asking questions, as she often does, but this time, her inquiry was a bit unusual.
“Mama, what does love taste like?” she asked, quite perplexed. “And what do kisses taste like?” she continued.
“Taste???” I asked, taken off guard. “Well, honey, love doesn’t have a flavor,” I replied.
“No, mama. People make food with love. Why can’t I taste it?”
Aaah. That’s what she was searching for. I thought for a moment and replied, “Well, darlin’, what does your nose do?”
“It smells!” she exuberantly replied.
“And your eyes?”
“And your ears?”
“That’s right. Now, what would you think if someone asked you what your nose hears?”
“What it hears? That’s silly! My nose is for smelling! And my ears are for hearing!”
“Exactly!” I replied. “So you have different body parts that are made for sensing different things. Not every part of your body senses everything that there is to sense, because your body parts are specialized- they are experts! Some parts of your body were especially designed to sense smell, some taste, some touch, some sound, some sight. And do you know what your heart is made for?”
“For feeling love?” she asked.
“You got it, darlin’. So just like your eyes were made especially to see, and your skin especially to feel touch, so your heart was made especially to feel love, not your tongue. Your tongue is for taste, your heart for love,” I replied, concluding that we had solved the mystery. But soon I would discover that I was mistaken.
I realized that while we were lost in our conversation, I had accidentally left the freeway a couple of exits too early. I figured it didn’t matter, however. I could just head in the general direction of church and follow my nose to service. Unfortunately, the streets in this particular part of town were not intuitive, and meandered about in a serpentine, convoluted fashion. Soon, we were well off track.
As I was trying to retrace my steps back to the freeway, E suddenly asked me again with fervency, “Mama, love has to have a taste. I just need to know, mama. What does it taste like?”
She was searching for something deeper, something important, and I wasn’t sure how to help her.
“Mama, I have to know, mama. I have to know.” She insisted.
By this point, I was very focused on the task of finding our way back to anything familiar. Distracted from the discussion and not knowing how else to respond, I said, “Honey, love simply doesn’t have a taste- it just has a feel, an energy, in your heart.”
As soon as I spoke these words that somehow felt incomplete, we pulled up to a stop light. There, at the intersection, was a very elderly man. His clothes were disheveled, his hair matted. He had no teeth. Looking at him sitting in the heat of the searing, southern sun, it dawned on me- I finally understood the deeper invitation behind my little one’s quest.
I looked to my right and grabbed the remaining hamburger that was still neatly wrapped in the paper fast food bag. I rolled down the window and handed the elderly gentleman the burger. His face lit up as he gave me the most delighted smile and accepted the bag with many thanks. The traffic light quickly turned green and I wished him well before entering the intersection. As I rolled up the window, I smiled and said, “You know what, honey? Mama could be wrong, though. Love may not always have a taste, but today, I think love tastes like hamburgers. What do you think?”
E giggled with delight and shouted, “Yes, mama, YES!”
Satisfied with our discovery, E quickly moved on to the next item on her list, asking if we would still make it to service. I hadn’t even found our way back from our detour into uncharted territory yet. I told her that it looked like we probably wouldn’t make it to church because I didn’t even know where church was at the moment. It was at this point that it dawned on me, yet again, that perhaps my answer wasn’t fully accurate.
I looked in the rear view mirror at E and asked, “What is church?”
She thought for a moment and then asked, “The place where they teach about God’s love?”
“Honey, we do learn about God and his love at church, but church is much, much more than just a place or a building, and love is so much more than a lesson we learn in a sermon. Church is a living, breathing family of people who accept a special invitation- an invitation to love God and everything He made with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our words, and with all our actions. We are invited to love with our hands, our feet, our thoughts, our desires, and all the energy God gives us. Even if we didn’t have a special building to go to, we would still have church, because we ARE church. Church is about love, relationship and connection with God, with all that He loves, and with all that loves Him. Defining church by a location or building would be as strange as defining your soul by the clothes you wear or the roof over your head.”
“Yes. In fact, we can have church right here, right now. We’ve missed service already, so let’s have our own church together right now in the car. What do you think?”
“Yeah! What are we going to do?”
“Well, what did we just do to show our love for other people, and in doing so, reflect God’s love for them too?”
“We gave away burgers! Can we give away more, mama?!”
“Absolutely. Today, we are going to have church on the road. Let’s show our love with our hands and actions by sharing a bite to eat with people who are hungry.”
We found another McDonalds and picked up 10 more hamburgers, asking for them to be organized into bags of two burgers each. It didn’t take long to find recipients. The experience was an eye-opening one for the girls. They had a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that some people live without homes of their own, and that there are those out there who actually do go hungry and don’t have food available whenever they want to eat. They were thrilled to be able to give a little gift to fill some hungry bellies. And we were all tickled to discover that sometimes love really does have a flavor, and today, love tasted like hamburgers.